Damascus (Agenzia Fides) - "We are determined to remain in this blessed land even at the cost of martyrdom and martyrdom of blood. This has already happened to some of our faithful, such as the three men from Maalula, Michael Taalab, Antonios Taalab and Sarkis Zakhem. They are true martyrs killed for refusing to renounce their faith": This is what is said in a statement sent to Fides Agency by Gregory III Laham, the Melkite Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, with headquarters in Damascus. The Patriarch expressed strong concern regarding the new invasion of the Christian village of Maalula by armed Islamist groups, who terrorized the population and took hostage 12 Orthodox nuns in the monastery of Santa Tecla.
The Patriarch remembers with joy the recent meeting of the Melkite Church with Pope Francis: "Together with the Holy Father, we invoked the flame of hope so that it would not extinguish in our hearts. Helped and sustained by the Pope’s prayers, concern and prophetic, bold and evangelical initiatives, we wish to stay in this blessed land, cradle of Christianity". The Patriarch asked the Pope to "help the Syrian Christians to remain in the Middle East" and launches an appeal: "We, Christians and Muslims, can and want to stay together, to witness the Gospel and build a new world and a better society and future for our young people.
Gregory III says that in Syria there are 9 million displaced persons. Over 1.2 million Syrians have fled to Lebanon, among them about 42 thousand Christians. Overall there are 450 thousand Christians (of various denominations) who have emigrated abroad. According to figures provided by the Patriarch, among the Syrian Christians there are about 1,200 deaths, including civilians, soldiers, nuns and priests. At least 60 churches have been damaged. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 03/12/2013)